Four paws up for authors who expand our world through stories of cultures different than our own!
We are excited to welcome children’s book author Christina Valenti to the Family Bookshelf.
After graduating from James Madison University and working in the media industry for several years, Christina moved to China, where she taught English for two years.
As Christina explains in our Reading Tub interview, every night, as she walked home from work, she would pass a wheelbarrow full of puppies for sale. She bought and adopted Wu (renamed Varly), eventually bringing him to the United States.
Christina has always loved reading, writing, and dogs. When she discovered and fell in love with Varly, it rekindled a love of writing. The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club is Varly’s story about living in China and coming to the States.
Meet Christina Valenti
Terry: As a dog lover – and the mom of a teen who begs to bring home every stray animal she sees – this was a particularly heartwarming story. Almost from the first page of The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club readers get the sense that this is a true story. When did you know that you wanted to write a book about Varly’s journey from China to the United States?
Christina: You’re right! The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club is based on my dog Varly, whom I rescued in Beijing. While I was living in China, I was always intrigued by the many dogs I would see roaming the streets or being sold on street corners. I wondered where they came from and where they would end up. I wanted to share Varly’s story as a way to give a sense of hope to this global issue of street dog overpopulation and how it is actually quite easy to help.
Terry: Walking in Varly’s paws for a minute – what is it like to be a dog in China? Is it common for families to have a pet, like a dog?
Christina: As China is evolving, having a pet seems to have become more popular, but still not as common as it is for Americans. You’re more likely to see street dogs roaming freely, searching for food and shelter.
Quite honestly, that isn’t uncommon in other countries. I would routinely see dogs who were looking for temporary shelter in restaurants. That isn’t acceptable here. In the United States, when someone sees a stray dog they typically look for a tag to call the owner or take it to a shelter.
Terry: Now that you’ve explained more about how dogs exist and are treated, and that you would see these puppies every night, what was it like having to choose just one puppy?
Christina: It was awful! I mean, I am happy to have saved at least one dog. If I could, I would have rescued all of the dogs that I saw throughout my travels in Southeast Asia.
I am passionate about animals and have a real appreciation for all of the organizations dedicated to saving and finding homes for them. I am planning to volunteer at a shelter called GO Rescue Pet Adoption starting in March once they relocate to Virginia Beach.
Even though I have reached out to a number of nonprofits, I have not heard back. I would like some of the sales proceeds from The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club to benefit a nonprofit. On the title page of the book, I suggest that people can donate to the Humane Society International.
Terry: Let me switch gears for a moment to talk about the “author” side of your experience. You have had quite an exciting ride since The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club was released in July 2014.
You had the opportunity to speak at the Baltimore Book Festival, your book was featured in the August issue of HillRag magazine; Free For All recommended it as a stocking stuffer in its 2014 Holiday Gift Guide, and Peak City Publishing included it in its Busy Box. Congratulations!! What’s next?
Christina: The Baltimore Book Festival was my first event as an author. I was honored to be selected as a speaker and it was a great way to get advice from other authors.
The Wheelbarrow Puppy Club is being featured in the January/February 2015 edition of the Humane Society’s All Animals magazine; and it will be in an upcoming edition of the Italian American Association’s national magazine. I will also be at the Capitol Pet Expo in March. I am looking forward to that event.
Terry: One of my favorite questions is to ask authors about connecting their story’s characters with other books. If you could introduce Varly to character(s) from another book who would you take with you for a playdate at the dog park? and Why?
Christina: Probably, Spot. Based on all of the “Spot” books, Spot seems to have done a lot – Spot’s First Words, Spot Goes to School, Spot’s Camping Trip, etc. I think Spot could teach Varly a few things. If Varlyhad her own book library, it would be filled with Spot books!
Terry: You’ve got another picture book underway, and you’re also working on a YA novel. What are you reading (when you’re not writing!)?
Christina: It is embarrassing, but I am still reading some of the youth romance books my friend Mary Beth (a teacher) introduced me to last summer.
Terry: You’re among bookworms, here! There’s nothing embarrassing at all. In fact, I try *not* to read books with an “adult” target audience. ;-) You’re hooked on YA romance now, have you always loved that genre?
Christina: I have always enjoyed reading and did a good amount of reading as a kid. I remember being really into the Babysitter’s Club series.
Terry: Were you able to share any of your favorite books from childhood with your students in Beijing?
Christina: I didn’t have any books with me. During my second year, I taught at an international private school which had a huge library of books that I recognized. I would take my Kindergarten class there once a week to pick out a book. I was always so excited to show them books I remembered from my childhood, such as the Berenstain Bears, Madeline, and of course Dr. Seuss!
Terry: What wonderful selections! Those were lucky Kindergartners! Thanks for spending some time with us, Christina, and opening a window into a dog’s life in China!
Read more of our interview with Christina. Connect with her on social media, too.